Prince, may he rest in peace and purple, not only left a prodigious musical legacy but was also an unheralded pioneer in the digital music world.
Here are five ways Prince helped shape the online music world:
1. He embraced the Internet before most. His “Crystal Ball” album, a three-CD set he put out in 1998, was initially only available over the phone and via Internet pre-orders, making it one of the first ever e-commerce music launches. Those who ordered the album online got a fourth disc of previously unreleased acoustic material, “The Truth,” and a fifth disc of instrumental music by his New Power Generation Orchestra.
2. He helped invent e-commerce. He launched his own NPG Music Club to sell select albums exclusively online. He even won a Webby Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006, identifying him as an e-commerce pioneer.
3. He was an early Internet troll. After record label Warner decided to take him on over money and creative control of his music in the early ’90s, he took to the Internet to fight back. He made a number of appearances with the word “Slave” written on his face. When Warner fought back, informing him it even owned the name Prince, he changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol, forcing the world to ID him as “the Artist Formerly Known as Prince.”
4. He was one of the first artists to give his music away. In 2007, Prince released “Planet Earth” and played an unprecedented 21 nights at the brand new O2 Arena in London. While in London, Prince hatched a deal with The Mail to give the album for free to the newspaper’s 2 million readers. Unfortunately, he neglected to tell record label Columbia of the deal. Columbia’s parent company, an obscure little corporation known as Sony, pulled the album’s release in the U.K.
5. He blazed on online path for other artists. Eventually, Prince shut down his NPG Music Club and launched LOtUSFLOW3R, which not only sold his music but tickets to his shows as well, outside the monopolies of the record companies and Ticketmaster. His early attempts to sell online and his fights with the traditional music powers left a big impression on British band Radiohead, then between major label contracts. Instead of settling on a new record label, the band released its album “In Rainbows” exclusively online, and allowed consumers to “pay what you like” for it, garnering a ton of mainstream press.
R.I.P. Prince, superstar musician and Internet pioneer.